How Lemon stopped Windy City Bulls season from turning sour
Windy City Bulls coach Charlie Henry figured his team would be in great shape at point guard when the Bulls snagged Tyler Ulis off waivers just before the season.
Ulis, a South suburban native, had spent two seasons with the Phoenix Suns and was signed by the Bulls to a two-way contract. But Ulis was lost to a hip injury after just four games, which left Windy City scrambling for a floor leader.
In this case, the Bulls used the phrase, "When life gives you lemons ..." literally. They traded for former Bradley point guard Walt Lemon Jr.
Lemon has played in nine games and Windy City has a franchise-record eight game winning streak. They'll try to extend it with two games this weekend at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates -- against Wisconsin today and Greensboro on Saturday, both at 7 p.m.
"Walt's been a huge help for us, I don't want to understate that," Henry said. "With that said, when we added Walt, we said it's going to take everyone. I think you see a guy like C.J. Fair, a guy like Mychal Mulder. He's made their lives easier, but also credit to them they're playing really well."
The 6-foot-3 Lemon isn't necessarily a household name, but he is a Chicago native who played at Julian High School and spent four years at Bradley. He went undrafted in 2014 and played in professionally in Hungary, Germany, Turkey and Greece before making his NBA debut last year with New Orleans. He started this season as a Boston Celtics two-way player.
"He's a strong, athletic point guard," Henry described. "He obviously excels playing in the open court, getting the ball downhill. His biggest strength is really to break down the first line of the defense. His ability to get the ball in the paint and make the appropriate pass. It's really opened things up for other guys."
Henry also credited backup point guard Thomas Wilder, another local product who started his high school career at Oswego East and played at Western Michigan.
When Ulis got hurt, Windy City plucked Wilder from the available players pool and he started the next game without ever getting to practice.
Now Windy City has two reliable point guards as well as good scoring balance. Lemon leads the team at 19.0 points and 8.9 assists. Two-way player Rawle Alkins is averaging 14.7 ppg, with Fair at 13.3, Mulder 12.6 and Kaiser Gates, who was with the NBA Bulls in preseason, at 11.9.
Henry is also excited about the new two-way player Brandon Sampson, a high-flying 6-5 forward from LSU who has averaged 15.7 points in his first three games.
"Even off to a rough start, our group has really kept a good approach, as well as a positive energy," Henry said. "When we were 5-12, the mood around the team was not that of a team that was struggling. Practices were good, spirited.
So that part's been consistent, but it's obviously been cool to see the group come together and play well. So many of our guys are really playing well at the same time."